Fraser Valley Flooding

Posted by Daniel on May 12, 2009 - 2 comments

Historian Chuck Davis writes:

The May 9 meeting of the Surrey Historical Society brought back memories to me of the 1948 Fraser River flood. At the time I was in Grade 7 at Maple Ridge Junior High in Haney (former weatherman Norm Grohmann was a classmate). All the kids were called out to help fill sandbags.

At the meeting Ryan Gallagher of the Surrey Archives gave a short illustrated talk on the flood, the second-worst in BC history—an 1894 flood of the Fraser covered more territory—but by far the worst in damage done: there was more to damage in 1948!

More than 50,000 acres were inundated, 2,000 homes were destroyed and 16,000 people displaced. More than 25,000 animals had to be relocated. One fascinating photo Ryan put up showed a flock of sheep swimming across a flooded field. Another showed three frightened horses running belly-deep through the rising waters.

Warnings of the coming flood had started in mid-May, when unseasonably warm weather combined with a higher than average snowfall the previous winter began to send water down the river in vast quantities. The greatest damage occurred between May 25 and June 3, when the river was rising more than a foot every day in the Valley.

Long-time SHS member Gordon Bishop—who as a young man in 1948 was helping people evacuate from Barnston Island—told us that virtually the entire island, except for the northern end, was under water. He saw a man with a shotgun sitting at the upper window in his house, refusing to leave his home for fear of it being looted. Another fellow, shouting that the whole island was sinking, jumped into his truck and screamed down the road to the little ferry landing. “I think he’d been to the Legion earlier.”

An unanticipated result of the flood: a plague of mosquitoes followed. And the pea crops that had once been a major export item on Barnston disappeared beneath the waters, never to recover.

There was much more, too much to tell here, but we learned of a 2006 book on the subject: High Water: Living with the Fraser Floods (Dairy Industry Historical Society) by Dr. K. Jane Watt.